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Spartans no match for Pack

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team wouldn’t think of disappointing their coach.

“They know I don’t like losing at home,” Nevada coach David Carter said after the Pack destroyed the San Jose State Spartans, 96-67, Saturday night to improve to 8-0 at Lawlor Events Center this season. “When you are home you want to force the other team to play their ‘A’ game to beat you. You don’t want to give anything away.”

The Wolf Pack (10-6 overall and 2-1 in the Western Athletic Conference) has not given away a thing this season at home.

“They just take a lot of pride in playing at home,” Carter said. “Last year (13-8 at Lawlor) we just couldn’t get over the hump at home and it hurt us down the stretch. But this year the guys have a lot more confidence on their home floor.”

That confidence turned into a 23-point, seven-assist night for Armon Johnson, a 20-point, 10-rebound effort from Luke Babbitt and a 19-point, three-steal performance from Brandon Fields. Fields became the 20th player in Nevada history to score 1,000 career points.

“That means a lot because a lot of great players have played here,” said Fields, who now has 1,012 points. “But I really wasn’t aware of it.”

Fields was more excited about the Pack’s defensive effort that forced San Jose State into 20 turnovers.

“It was amazing out there defensively,” Fields said. “Everybody had their hands in the passing lanes. We helped each other on defense real well.”

The Pack also played one of its best games on offense, committing just eight turnovers and shooting the ball at a 51.5 percent clip.

“We just played good team basketball and we took care of the ball. It was a good win,” said Johnson, who had just two turnovers.

The Pack, which has now won 26 of its last 30 regular season WAC home games, put this game away early. Nevada went on a pair of 10-2 runs and another 11-2 spurt in building a commanding 34-15 lead just 12 minutes into the game.

Fields hit his only two 3-pointers of the night in a span of 15 seconds to cap off the first dozen minutes. Those first 12 minutes also featured a pair of Dario Hunt dunks 90 seconds apart and two Ray Kraemer 3-pointers off the bench.

“We’ve had better games offensively this year, but this was a great effort by everybody,” said Johnson, who hadn’t scored at least 20 points since he poured in 30 five games ago against BYU.

“I just think our defense created a lot of our offense tonight,” Carter said.

Babbitt, who now has 900 career points, hit a 3-pointer and a 12-footer in the final three minutes of the half to give the Pack a 47-29 lead at intermission.

San Jose State did make things a little interesting about five minutes into the second half. Adrian Oliver (20 points) hit a 3-pointer to cut the Pack lead to 55-44 with 15 minutes, 45 seconds to play. Robert Owens (10 points) drained another 3-pointer to slice the Pack lead to 58-47 and Oliver hit another from beyond the arc to make it 60-50 with 14:42 to go.

The Pack, though, answered each time.

Johnson completed a three-point play to answer Oliver’s first 3-pointer and hit a short jumper to counter Owens’ trey. Oliver’s second 3-pointer was met by a 10-2 Pack run, thanks to four free throws by Babbitt (11-of-11 from the line), a dunk by Fields, an offensive rebound and bucket by Joey Shaw (11 points) and a jumper by Johnson.

Kraemer also hit his third 3-pointer of the game for a 73-56 Pack lead with 10:30 to play and Fields completed a reverse layup for an 82-63 lead with 6:30 to go.

“The key is playing a full 40 minutes,” Babbitt said. “Just staying focused for the whole game is the key for us.”

The 96 points is the most San Jose State has allowed this season. The Spartans came into the game with a three-game winning streak that included a 78-75 WAC win over Idaho on Monday.

“That’s a pretty good team,” Carter said. “We wanted to come out and try to take it to them.”

The Pack, which has now won 15 of its last 16 games against San Jose State, was able to empty its bench against the Spartans. For the first time this season as many as four reserves (Kraemer, Patrick Nyeko, London Giles and Keith Olson) each played at least 10 minutes. Kraemer had nine points in 23 minutes and the rest of the bench contributed 10 points in 45 minutes combined.

“It was about matchups,” Carter said. “I thought Olson (10 minutes, 2 points, 2 rebounds) matched up well with (C.J.) Webster and I thought Cukic matched up well with (Chris) Oakes. They did a nice job. Overall, I think it was one of their (the bench’s) better performances.”